Five surprisingly endangered a

Five surprisingly endangered animal species of South Africa

It’s not just rhinos, elephants and big cats that are under threat of extinction. Here are five less glamorous but equally endangered South African animals.

Five surprisingly endangered a


Pickersgill’s Reed Frog – IUCN Status*: Critically Endangered

At only 3cm in length, the Pickersgill’s reed frog is one of the smallest as well as one of the most critically endangered amphibians in South Africa. Found along the of KwaZulu-Natal, the population is spread right up the state’s seashore and is under major threat from property development, habitat fragmentation and drainage of semi-stagnant water that the reed frog requires for breeding.

The Pickersgill’s reed frog has been named ‘flagship species’ by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) for its amphibian conservation programme, meaning more focus should now be paid by humans in the area with regards to ways that they can minimalist the damage they cause to the reed frog’s natural habitat. South Africa’s first breeding project for endangered amphibian species also features the reed frog, meaning there may well be hope for the species yet despite the fact that only 1 per cent of their natural habitat is protected.

Amphibians are the most threatened class of vertebrates on earth. Of the 7,000 known species, 3,900 are believed to be threatened in some way and 170 species are believed to be extinct.

African_Penguin3420x300African Penguin – IUCN Status: Endangered

Bristol Zoological Society has recently led a chick-bolstering project in a number of different South African penguin colonies in an attempt to boost population figures which are at just 2.5 per cent of the numbers from 80 years ago. This is primarily due to overfishing in the colony areas, resulting in mass migration and starvation. Chicks are frequently abandoned by their parents during the moulting period at the end of the breeding season. If this happens, they are then admitted to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) where they are hand-reared for three months or so until they are no longer underweight or unwell and then released back into the wild.

Dr Christoph Schqitzer, head of research at the Bristol Zoological Society said: “This is a huge effort to conserve an endangered species and every chick is vitally important. Unless conservation organisations intervene, these chicks would starve to death. The African penguin is on a downward spiral anyway due to lack of food near their nesting colonies, and there is a substantial risk that this species could eventually become extinct.”

Vanessa Strauss, conservation director at SANCCOB, said: “Research has proven that hand-reared chicks fare as well as naturally-reared chicks in the wild. With less than 19,000 breeding pairs left in the wild in SA, African penguins are an endangered species and it remains critical to save every individual possible to bolster numbers in the wild.”

Painted dogsAfrican Wild Dog – IUCN Status: Endangered

There are now less than 450 African wild dogs left in South Africa due to the frequency with which they are brutally snared and killed by farmers. Also known as the painted dog, this canine sub-species has a very negative reputation, which has resulted in them being hunted to near-extinction.

One of the rarest animals on the African continent, the painted dog has an evolutionary ancestry which can be traced back over 40 million years. They once ranged through 39 different countries on the continent but today can only be found in South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Famed for their large, round ears and multi-coloured coat, African wild dogs are very social creatures with developed social systems. In South Africa the Endangered Wildlife Trust is working hard to try and protect the painted dog in its natural habitat by sponsoring a major monitoring and reintroduction programme in Kruger National Park.

“Suddenly they were there, lean, ghost like shapes in the moonlight with Mickey Mouse ears; wearing their dappled coats of black, tan and gold, like ink spots on blotting paper. Only a new day would reveal their full beauty. Only Man could hope to prevent their extinction.” – An extract from ‘Shadows In The Forest’ by CD McClelland

blue craneBlue Crane – IUCN Status: Vulnerable

South Africa’s national bird is under major threat due to habitat loss, poisoning and collisions with electric wires: because the birds have a blind spot in their vision they frequently end up entangled in power lines, a problem that is exacerbated by their long, gangly legs. The African Crane Conservation Programme is consequently currently exploring possible ways of making the wires visible to the birds.

There are still 26,000 blue cranes in South Africa but the population has been in a decline since 1980 which has yet to plateau. In the last two decades the blue crane has largely disappeared from the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, and Swaziland. The population in the northern Free State, Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West Province has declined by up to 90 per cent.

Cape VultureCape Vulture – IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Also known as Kolbe’s vulture, the Cape vulture nests on cliffs and lays just one egg a year. Endemic to South Africa, it can also be found in Lesotho, Botswana and some parts of northern Namibia. They are the largest raptor in Africa but their current population is estimated to be just 8,000 due to poisoning, power line electrocution and the loss of habitat due to human activities.

Vultures generally often have a bad reputation due to their association with death, but what is often disregarded is that these birds stop diseases from spreading through the animal kingdom by eating carcasses. Current conservation efforts are being stepped up in South Africa, with the vulture conservation organisation VulPro leading the way. VulPro aim to raise awareness as well as protect vultures and conserve their habitats. They launched a breeding and rehabilitation project fairly recently and the first captive-bred vulture chick hatched on 1 September last year in the Johannesburg Zoo.

*The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List ranks species from least to most threatened in the following order:

  • Least Concern
  • Near Threatened
  • Vulnerable
  • Endangered
  • Critically Endangered
  • Extinct in the Wild
  • Extinct